THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Winter 2010)
When I was a boy growing up in New Jersey, each summer my siblings and I had the special pleasure of catching lightning bugs (know in other locales as fire flies). These flying insects would come out at night and intermittently give off a light as they flew by. We would catch them and put them in jars with grass, punch holds in the lids of the jars, and hope we could use them as lanterns. While numinous and fascinating for us, such captivity was not good for the lightning bugs. They didn’t generally survive the night. It was only while given their freedom in nature that they produced their light, one that was mysterious and fascinating to watch.
C. G. Jung’s psychology, especially his study of alchemy, offers a symbolic appreciation for the special enchantment these small, luminous insects carry, for they are living embodiments of the lumen naturae, the mystical light of nature. For the alchemist, who Jung referred to as natural philosophers, this light of nature illuminates consciousness as it shines forth from the darkness of the unconscious. For Jung each archetype within the unconscious offers its own unique luminosity. It can tell us something about the mystery of life.
The film Avatar (now just released in extended form on Blu-ray and DVD) offers a wonderful depiction of this aspect of nature. The Navi huntress Neytiri is about to shoot an arrow at the forest intruder Jake Sully, when a luminescent “seed” descends on her bow. She immediately recognizes this as a sign, and does not shoot. She later comes to his aid when he falls under the attack of viper wolves. Yet she is still very frustrated with his naiveté and lack of respect for the natural world in which she lives. For example, to make his way in the dense forest, Jake has fashioned a torch so he can see and ward off animals. She douses this torch, and just as he begins to complain, we see the natural light of the forest, its luminescence shine forth to light their way.
Neytiri sends Jake off; she does not believe he has a right to be in the forest. But he follows her and asks for help. She refuses, but once again these luminescent seeds descend, this time upon Jake. While he is perplexed as to their meaning and even tries to shoo them away, she recognizes these seeds as a sign from Eywa, their deity. She will take Jake to her people so her father, the head clansman, and her mother, the clan shaman, can determine his fate and the meaning of this sign.
Avatar cleverly evokes this mysterious side of the natural world, found throughout alchemical writings, the natural spirit in nature and all living things, a light that shines in the darkness. The film continues the spirit of many Japanese anime films, such as Princess Mononoke, which often engage the viewer with this mystical side of nature. While we seem to have generally lost the meaning of such experiences in our urban lives, and the numinosity (sense of mystery) as well as luminosity to be found in nature (though it is often found in our nature writers), we still acknowledge it, on some level, with the lights that we string and hang on our seasonal evergreen trees and from our buildings., and along our walkways during this time of year, the winter solstice. Such practices suggest that somewhere we still search and long for the living connection to nature represented by such lights and to touch once more the lumen naturae, to have them become a part of our lives.
So we at Coldwater Counseling Center hope that this year, when you gaze at the many lights of this holiday season, that the inner light, the lumen naturae will also shine for you.
Editor: Steve Galipeau